During warm weather, most people forsake their slow cookers for outdoor grills.
But summer is actually the best time to use your slow cooker, according to Brenda Stanley, author of “That’s a Lot of Crock!” (Cedar Fort, $12.99).
“It keeps the house cool, because you’re not heating up the kitchen by standing over a stove or heating up the oven,” said the author, who also writes a cooking column, “Tales of the Dinner Belle,” for the Standard-Examiner.
“And in summer, you want to be doing a lot of things outside. You can put something in the Crock-Pot so you have extra time to work in the yard or do things with the kids. When you come back home, dinner will be ready.”
Stanley, who lives in Blackfoot, Idaho, owns three slow cookers. One is the classic model first rolled out in the 1970s by the Rival Company, which trademarked the name Crock-Pot. Over the years, slow-cooker manufacturers have come up with features such as removable inserts, locking lids, a keep-warm setting, programmable cooking timers, insulated carrying bags, double- and triple-pots, and a pot that can be placed directly on the stovetop for browning meats.
But most of the basic principles of slow cooking have remained the same over the many years that Stanley has been cooking with them.
Stanley, a former television news anchor for the NBC affiliate in Idaho, has written three novels as well as the cookbook “Zucchini Houdini.”
“I feel you need to write what you know, and I have a large family,” she said. “They are grown and gone now, but I had five kids, with two sets of twins born 20 months apart. I needed something that was going to be efficient and a money-saving way to feed all these people.”
She relied on a slow cooker for weeknight meals. “I refused to do the eating-out thing. I liked having family dinners when I came home from work, where I could relax and listen to what my kids had been doing during the day. The easiest way to do that was the Crock-Pot.”
Slow cookers are also budget-friendly because they can tenderize a less-expensive cut of meat, such as a chuck roast, with long, slow temperatures, as in Stanley’s Greek Beef recipe.
“The Crock-Pot was made for the chuck roast,” she said. “I found that any of the chicken recipes are honestly better if you use a chicken thigh — they’re more tender when you use the cheaper cut.”
Her book contains more than 80 recipes, from main dishes to desserts.
“These are recipes that someone might have given me a long time ago and I’ve always used; or one that just came out of necessity, where I’ve got this or that in the pantry, let’s put this together and see if it works.”
Putting the book together allowed Stanley to clear out her old files of recipes written on yellow legal pads, or old cards and notes.
“The No. 1 mistake people make is to lift the lid to check on the food, because it takes another 15 minutes to get the heat back up to the same temperature,” she said. “Also, overfilling is a mistake, because it doesn’t cook as well. Filling it up about two-thirds is the best.”
Pasta and rice can become gluey with long cooking times. Stanley recommends adding them to the pot a half-hour or so before serving time.
At her book signings, Stanley has found interest in the book from a wide variety of people.
“There are people who like to cook, but also people who don’t feel like they’ve got the time and they say their family is sick of having frozen pizza. I hope this book will help them get their family to sit down together at the table.”
Many of her recipes can be found on her website, Talesofthedinnerbelle.com. Her Mexican Chicken recipe is simple and easy to make.
“The Spicy Asian Beef Short Ribs are amazing,” she said. “It’s one of my signature recipes when I have company over.”
The Hot Fudge Cake recipe is proof that slow cookers aren’t just for dinner.
All three of these recipes come from her book:
Spicy Asian Short Ribs
3-4 pounds beef short ribs
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup rice vinegar
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 cup carrots cut into 1-inch chunks
1/2 head of cabbage, cut into quarters
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 cup coarsely chopped green onions
Trim excess fat from ribs and place in the slow cooker. Mix together the soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, garlic, ginger, sesame oil and red pepper.
Pour mixture over ribs. Place carrots and cabbage on top. Cook on low 7-8 hours.
Transfer the cabbage, short ribs and carrots to a plate and cover with foil. Skim the fat from the cooking liquid and discard. Turn the slow cooker to high. In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and 1/4 cup of water until smooth. Whisk into the cooking liquid and cook until thickened. Spoon the sauce over the short ribs and vegetables and sprinkle with the green onions.
20-ounce can enchilada sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 cup water
5 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
Mix together the enchilada sauce, brown sugar and water. Pour into the slow cooker. Add chicken and stir to coat. Cook on low 6-8 hours. Shred chicken with a fork while still in the slow cooker. Serve in tortillas with your favorite fixings, or over rice, or however you like.